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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Any Moment: Judge Could Rule On Meadows' Bid To Move Georgia Election Case To Federal Court; Senate Republican Leaders To Meet Next Week Following Mitch McConnell's Latest Health Scare; Massive Manhunt Underway In Pennsylvania For Escaped Killer; Proud Boy Who Smashed Capitol Window Sentenced To 10 Years; Millions Of Americans Expected To Travel This Weekend; U.S. COVID Hospitalizations Rise Amid Busy Travel Weekend. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 01, 2023 - 16:00   ET



ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: Tami Manis says that she had a mullet back in the '80s. She decided to cut it in 1989 and immediately regretted it. She hasn't touched it since. That was 33 long years ago.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Yeah, she loves her mullet but it can be a problem because she has to tuck it into her pockets when she rides her bike.

I don't know. What do you think? Does this work for you?

MARQUARDT: I think she -- yeah. Like in "Star Wars", yeah.

KEILAR: I'll just do this.

MARQUARDT: She could just braid it.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: From Proud Boys to jail birds.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The rioter who smashed in that Capitol window, another who helped organize the violent attack -- new quite lengthy prison sentences for the so-called Proud Boys as we begin to see the U.S. justice system come down on those who played leadership roles in trying to overturn the 2020 election.

Plus --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two years has gone by and where are we? To be frank, we're knee deep in bullshit.


TAPPER: A demand for answers from grieving parents. Thirteen U.S. service members were killed in that chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Gold Star families this week were asking their leaders pointed questions today, where we're going to try to begin to start to get some answers.

But, first, the judge's decision expected at any moment that could change the trajectory of the Fulton County case and the 19 defendants charged, including Donald Trump.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin with our law and justice lead. At any moment, a U.S. district judge could decide if former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows will face trial in Georgia, or in federal court.

Meadows argues that his case belongs in federal court because, as Trump's right-hand man at the White House at the time, he says his actions were thus part of official government duties. Meadows specifically faces charges for participating in Trump's infamous phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger where Trump asked the Republican official to, quote, find enough votes for him to flip the state from Biden to Trump.

A Fulton County judge yesterday ruled that cameras will be allowed in his courtroom in this sprawling election subversion case. So if Meadows does end up in federal court, he'll avoid the television cameras. He'll avoid playing a starring role alongside his former boss, Mr. Trump, in what is likely to become the most watched trial of all time.

As for some of Trump's other co-defendants in this case, four more of them pleaded not guilty today. That brings the total to 10 out of 19. Some are struggling to pull together funds for these mounting legal bills. At least four have turned to crowdfunding, one has a political action committee, another has an ally in Congress to support the legal defense.

What they do not have is any apparent sign that Donald Trump intends to help any of them. Mr. Trump told Newsmax, he doesn't even know a lot of them.

Here with me, CNN's Jessica Schneider and Tom Dupree, former principal deputy assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration.

Thanks for being with us to both of you.

Jessica, let me start with you -- when do we expect this U.S. district judge to decide where Mark Meadows will ultimately have to face trial?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It could come at any time, Jake, but we're expecting that it will likely come before Wednesday, because that's the date of the arraignment. Mark Meadows still hasn't entered a plea here, so he needs to do so, if it were to stay in state court by Wednesday. But the judge just got this extra briefing late yesterday afternoon. It amounted to about 35 pages. And the issue here that the judge really seems to be focusing on is whether maybe one of these acts, in the multiple acts that were listed in the indictment, if even one of those acts touched on Mark Meadows' role as a federal office, does that mean that it should be removed?

Of course, Mark Meadows team is saying, yes, absolutely, even if one of those acts even remotely touched on his duties, it should be moved to federal court. Fani Willis's team, as expected, is pushing back in their briefs saying, no, this indictment was about the broad conspiracy, not just one single act. So, it needs to be, you know, multiple acts here that would require the removal.

So we'll see what this judge could rule in the coming days, likely I would think by Wednesday.

TAPPER: Tom, if Meadows case is moved to federal court, how would that impact this sprawling case being brought by District Attorney Fani Willis against 19 defendants?

TOM DUPREE, FORMER PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, GEORGE W. BUSH ADMINISTRATION: I think it would have the likely effect of breaking things up. From my perspective, I think it is unlikely that even if Meadows is allowed to defend himself in federal court, that all 19 cases will move like a magnet to a federal court with him.


I think the likely scenario would be that the federal court might take jurisdiction over several of the defendants maybe even President Trump, but I think it will be a little much to move every single case pending in Georgia state court into federal court.

The other thing is you got timing issues. It looks like some of these defendants in state court are eager for a fast trial. The district attorney seems eager to accommodate them, so that could be another factor. We could see some state court cases moving ahead very quickly, if there are federal court cases, they would probably move on a slightly slower timetable.

TAPPER: And, Jessica, bring us up to speed on Wisconsin's Kenneth Chesebro, one of Trump's co-defendant. He is asking and able to get a speedy trial. So that is going to start in October. So what is next for him?

SCHNEIDER: Yeah, we've actually seen this flurry of filings from his team. So, first of all, he's asking for the prosecutors to speed up their production of discovery here. Basically prosecutors have told his team that they won't be getting all of the documents to them by September 15th even though Chesebro's team has already handed him a hard drive for these documents.

Chesebro's team is saying, wait a second here, why are we supposed to wait two more weeks when this trial is scheduled to start on October 23rd. So, they're saying, prosecutor, you can't have it both ways. You can't ask for this speedy trial or agree to it, and then not give us the documents.

And then secondly, just a few hours ago, actually, Chesebro also filed a motion to not have -- to have his case tried solo. He does not want to go to trial alongside Sidney Powell, who has also asked for a speedy trial. Chesebro's team is basically saying that Chesebro had no communication ever with Sidney Powell, that they're not accused of the same thing. So they really want to separate themselves in particular from Sidney Powell here.

TAPPER: And, Tom, Mr. Trump yesterday formally asked a judge to sever his case from his codefendants who want a speedy trial like Powell and Chesebro. Trump's lawyer arguing he will not have sufficient time to prepare his defense for trial by October 23rd, two short months away pretty much.

It's reasonable to think a judge might agree with that, right?

DUPREE: I do. I think that is reasonable. I mean, even if you weren't the former president preparing for a trial of this complexity and in two months I think would be a difficult task. So I think the former president would actually be in fairly strong ground asking that, whatever his trial date is set, maybe next year rather than in October with the other folks.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Schneider and Tom Dupree, thanks to both of you.

Here to discuss, Marc Short. He served as chief of staff to former Vice President Mike Pence.

So, first, good to see you.


TAPPER: So this is first time I've talked to you since Trump turned himself in Fulton County jail. You worked for Pence specifically, but previously you were Trump's director of legislative affairs and I want to get your response as a human being for a second, if it's okay, when you look at the mug shot of Donald Trump, the former president, you've seen it now, I'm pointing it to you but you don't need to see it, I guess.

What is it like to see your former boss, a guy you worked for, a guy whose legislation and policies you tried to enact that -- so you had to have believed in him at least to some degree in terms of his policies.

SHORT: Oh, sure.

TAPPER: What is it like to see that photo?

SHORT: I think it's sad. I think it's tragic, Jake. I think that -- I'm very proud of the four years of record and I think that the president was great to me, was great to my family. So, I don't think there's any celebration. I do think that the events

of January 6 were tragic and certainly avoidable. And I think that the president got a lot of bad counsel, in many cases counsel he sought out that I think led him astray and I think that ultimately asking the vice president to sort of put aside the Constitution is a huge violation of your most important oath to the American people, to protect and defend and the Constitution.

TAPPER: I know, you know, this town gets caught up in politics a lot, understandably so. It's important. Policies are important too. But, you know, we all are humans.

When you talk to other people who worked in the Trump White House, not those who were charged with crimes, but people like you, people who tried to do the right thing like the vice president, et cetera, what do are you hearing from them about this, the mug shot and everything?

SHORT: I think that in some cases, it is probably a little bit surreal for a lot of people. You into he had to have a little bit of distance from it. But I think that, you know, there is obviously a lot of us who felt that the events that day were tragic and that what the president was asking the vice president to do was antithetical to his oath.

I think there's a lot of others, though, Jake, who feel that they still want to defend obviously the president and moving forward with his candidacy in 2024. I think they want this to go away.

TAPPER: Fulton County judge ruled that all proceedings in the courtroom will be on camera. Now we don't know if ultimately Donald Trump will be in federal court or the Georgia court. But assuming he's in Georgia, and his -- and the case is televised, I mean, he's a former reality TV star, do you think him being in a televised trial helps him or hurts him theoretically?


SHORT: Well, I mean, I don't know. I think there is a lot that is counter intuitive. I think you've seen with each indictment, that in many cases, Republican voters rally back around the president. So, it's hard to know. But I do think there's a difference. I think when you're in that environment, you can't control the narrative. You can't control the setting as much.

So I can't imagine that it is a positive or that it would be beneficial politically to him.

TAPPER: Yeah, another person with a mug shot now, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. He is arguing and we were just covering, the idea that like his actions involved in trying to overturn the election in Georgia specifically, were related to his job as White House chief of staff. And therefore it should be a federal case, not a Georgia case.

What do you make of just that claim? That this was him doing his job as a federal employee? SHORT: Again, I'm very sympathetic, I think he was acting at the

president's behest and I think you could make the argument as part of his role as chief of staff. But as I said, I think what undercuts that argument is, if you're in that federal role, then how come none of the White House counsel is there with you helping to advocate for that case?

It's clear that White House counsel was giving very different advice. And so, Mark went outside and found independent counsel that he could partner with on this endeavor to try to overturn the results in Georgia and I think that that obviously argues against this is part of your federal role because you clearly weren't relying upon the people who are giving you counsel inside the White House. You went outside of the White House to get independent counsel to try to advocate in some way that something could come out different in Georgia.

TAPPER: Yeah, the White House counsel and deputy counsel were -- and other advisers were very clearly opposed to all of this.

SHORT: Correct. That's right.

TAPPER: What do you think will happen to the case if judge sides with Meadows and kicks the case to federal court?

SHORT: I'm not a lawyer.

TAPPER: I know you're not.

SHORT: So, it's hard for me to know that.

TAPPER: But you're a smart guy.

SHORT: But, look, I think it is interesting that in the federal indictments, that considering Mark's central role in this, that he was not included. So I think there's probably reason to believe that he's been cooperating with the prosecution in that case.

TAPPER: On the federal level.

SHORT: Yes. So it'll be interesting to see if it gets moved in venues as westward of cooperation in these two cases.

TAPPER: Why do you think that would be? Because you have noted that Mark was in many ways the ringleader, that's your word, of a lot of these attempts to subvert the election, to overturn the election in various states, et cetera, not just Georgia and that Mark Meadows' name does not appear in the federal indictment, not as a co- conspirator, not as a co-defendant.

SHORT: Right.

TAPPER: Not -- I mean, not -- his name is not there.

SHORT: Right.

TAPPER: So, you've hypothesized that he must be cooperating to a degree, which is a reasonable suspicion. Why would he cooperate with that one but not the Georgia case? I mean, is there any reason? Because I can't understand that.

SHORT: Well, again, maybe -- maybe the perception is that if you get it moved into federal court, then you could get cooperation to help remove the state charges. So, that would be my best guess, Jake.

TAPPER: Let's discuss Special Counsel Jack Smith's federal investigation that we were just talking about. Given that Smith says that he could conduct this trial in four to six weeks, do you think others have struck deals before this goes to trial.

SHORT: I would imagine that that's the case. Certainly, I would imagine --

TAPPER: Have you heard --

SHORT: I have not. No, I have not. But it would seem to me it's a pretty monumental case. And so, perhaps the prosecution could go with that speed and trying the former president of the United States.

TAPPER: And what do you make of the fact that Donald Trump and his PACs, his political action committee are not helping the Georgia defendants even though they are helping some of the others that have been charged on a federal level?

SHORT: Well, I think, candidly, there has been a lot of fundraising that has gone to pledge for people to give money that there is this legal defense fund that is helping a broad number of people who haven't gotten assistance. So, I think there is even questions to the extent to which they've been fundraising off of this, has it been legitimate fundraising cause or has the money been diverted for other purposes?

TAPPER: Yeah. All right. Marc Short, good to have you here. I hope you have a nice relaxing Labor Day weekend.

SHORT: Same to you, Jake. Thanks for having me.

TAPPER: And coming up next, the conversations happening among Senate Republicans facing questions about the health and the vigor of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. What is his future going forward?

And Labor Day weekend, one of the busiest holiday travel steps of the year, trouble spots expecting congestion, AKA, delays for you.

But first, that urgent Manhattan just outside Philadelphia for that extremely dangerous killer. What authorities said just moments ago about the inmate on the run?



TAPPER: In our politics lead, quote, Mitch McConnell needs to step aside. That is from the editors of the long-term conservative magazine "The National Review". They're calling on the Republican Senate minority leader to step aside.

McConnell appearing to freeze during news conferences in late July and again on Wednesday. That behavior causing even more speculation and questions about whether or not he should serve and can serve as the top Republican leader in the U.S. Senate.

The topic will no doubt come up as McConnell meets with his Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill next week. Many of them have questions.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is on Capitol Hill for us.

Melanie, how are Republicans responding to McConnell's latest health scare, obviously, beyond the compassion and the sympathy that we all feel, what else?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Right. Of course. Well, publicly, most Republicans and even some Democrats are saying they are not worried about Mitch McConnell's ability to continue leading his conference. But privately, there is a lot of frustration and concern about the lack of transparency with his health and what is really going on here.

And I can tell you, Jake, there are growing doubts inside the GOP right now about whether Mitch McConnell will continue to serve as GOP leader beyond 2024. That is when his current term as Republican leader is set to expire. So, all of this likely to come to the spotlight next week when the Senate returns from their recess.

Mitch McConnell presumably will have a press conference next week in front of reporters. We've seen him freeze up in two incidents in the last month in front of press conferences. So that's going to be something to watch.

And then he's also going to face his members in their weekly conference meeting and we're also hearing there is some chatter among rank and file members about forcing a special conference meeting to specifically discuss his leadership. It will only take five Republicans to call for such a meeting. But there is not a mechanism to easily force him or force him out of his position.

So more than likely to be a frustration and venting session next week, but something we're certainly keeping an eye on, Jake.

TAPPER: And there are at least three Senate Republicans, that informal called the three Johns, who could potentially replace McConnell.

ZANONA: Yeah. So there is long speculation about who would succeed McConnell whenever he does step aside and they all happened to be named John, the three Johns, as you note. There's John Barrasso of Wyoming, John Cornyn of Texas, and John Thune of South Dakota, all around leadership and close to McConnell and all have differing a approaches to former President Donald Trump which could come into play in a race for leader.

But it is going to be a dog fight. There's no clear frontrunner and Mitch McConnell has been in that role since 2007. He's the longest serving party leader of either party in the Senate history. So it will just be a seismic shift inside the GOP whenever Mitch McConnell does decide to step aside, Jake.

TAPPER: Barrasso, the Trumpiest of the three. Is that fair to say?

ZANONA: Yeah, yeah.

TAPPER: Okay, Melanie Zanona on Capitol Hill for us, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, the new prison sentences rolling in for members of the so-called Proud Boys after their violent attack on police officers, and others at the U.S. Capitol.

Plus, the origins of this far right group and the others on the radar of the FBI.



TAPPER: In our national lead, a Pennsylvania felon who murdered his ex-girlfriend in front of her kids remains on the loose. This is after he escaped the Chester County prison outside of Philadelphia just before 9:00 a.m. on Thursday.

As this urgent manhunt continues this afternoon, Pennsylvania state police offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Danelo Cavalcante's capture.

CNN's Danny Freeman is outside the prison at Chester County.

Danny, the police also shared their thoughts on whether or not people might be assisting the fugitive?

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. That's just part of the new information that we learned in the past few hours from a press conference from local law enforcement officials. First is that police believe there is no evidence at this point to suggest that anyone is helping this escaped inmate at this time.

The second thing that we also learned from this press conference is the district attorney believes that escapee, Danelo Cavalcante, is still in this general area. The D.A. saying we believe he's hiding somewhere locally and is still alone.

And the third thing we learned, Jake, is that there is reason to believe that this suspect is heading south. And the stem of that belief really comes back to why Cavalcante was in this prison behind me.

Remember, Cavalcante was convicted just two weeks of brutally murdering his girlfriend back in 2021. He was just sentenced to life in prison without parole last week. Well, prosecutors said after that murder, in 2021, Cavalcante tried to flee down to Brazil, his home country. But he didn't get that far. Law enforcement officers picked him up in Virginia and that is why law enforcement officials today believe he may be trying to head south again.

But the U.S. Marshals, they are not deterred. Take a listen to what one representative had to say at this press conference.


ROBERT CLARK, SUPERVISOR OF FUGITIVE TASK FORCE FOR U.S. MARSHALS: They have no reason to believe Mr. Cavalcante has left the area. However if he does, U.S. Marshal Service has a long arm to touch anyone in this country or its territories, and we plan to do so. We will stop at nothing until we bring him back to custody to support our state and local partners.


FREEMAN: Jake, law enforcement officials urging people in Chester County to be extra vigilant during this holiday weekend, saying to check your sheds, check surrounding areas. But if you do come in contact with this escape prisoner, just call 911. Don't try yourself to communicate with him -- Jake.

TAPPER: I wouldn't check my shed if I lived in Chester County.

Danny, describe the area around the prison. How easy would it be for someone to hide there?

FREEMAN: Well, two that point, Jake, it really is a diverse terrain in the area around the prison. I'm looking this way behind the camera. You can see basically a lot of almost forest-like area here. But if you go a few minutes down this road, to my left here, Jake, there are a lot of corn fields.

So it is a diverse area out here in Chester County, clearly part of the challenge that law enforcement are facing as they search for this escaped inmate.

TAPPER: All right. Danny Freeman on the case there at Chester County, thanks so much.

And now in our law and justice lead. Remember this guy? The one who smashed a window to the Capitol building with the police riot shield he grabbed, that guy was just sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Trump appointed federal judge. Dominic Pezzola is a member of the so- called Proud Boys and he will join fellow Proud Boy Ethan Nordean who may be sentenced, unlike Pezzola. And Nordean was considered the leader of the Proud Boys but did not actually enter the Capitol.

CNN's Evan Perez is with us right now.

Evan, so far sentences have been significantly lower than what Justice Department prosecutors had asked for. But still pretty high.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: They're pretty harsh sentences, Jake. Look, the Justice Department asked for 20 years for Pezzola who was

sentenced earlier today. He got 10. This was -- you know, listen to some of the sentences has been really instructive in what a tragedy January 6 was for everyone, including some of the people who are accused of entering the building, helping carry out some of the crimes.

You've seen obviously the pictures of Pezzola breaking the window there, leading what the judge said, he was the tip of the spear for people who went into that building. But the other thing that you hear, certainly right now as we're listening -- as we're watching Nordean being sentenced as we speak in the federal court in Washington here, you hear from their families. You hear from them apologizing, tearfully, because they realize what is about to happen to them.

The prosecutors have been asking for very hefty sentences, in some cases for leaders of proud boys, Joseph Biggs, and for Zachary Rehl, they're asking for more than 30 years. In the case of Biggs, they got 17. Zachary Rehl got 15 years. These are very, very hefty sentences. They're going to basically have their daughters grow up without their fathers being there.

But the judge, one of the things that he just mentioned in court, was that what happened on January 6 and the violence that happened that day was more than just that. There was something that was lost for all Americans, which was the tradition, at long held tradition of a peaceful transfer of power, which we've lost. And we will have to build the next time there is an election and next time there is a transfer of power.

So one of the things we're watching for now is Nordean. He took over the leadership of the Proud Boys after Enrique Tarrio was arrested right before January 6. Enrique Tarrio, by the way, is facing his own sentencing next week. So he's -- they're going to be the fifth of the proud boys that are -- that are facing sentencing in this federal court again by Judge Timothy Kelly, Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah, and Enrique Tarrio, the former national chairman of the so-called Proud Boys --

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: That sentencing is next week. What are we expecting at that hearing?

PEREZ: We're expecting, again, for the Justice Department to emphasize what happened on January 6 and what these men did. Now, Enrique Tarrio was arrested before January 6 and so, he was banned from being inside of Washington on that day. So he wasn't there.

TAPPER: But he had stolen a Black Lives Matter flag.

PEREZ: He had stolen Black Lives Matter -- and they were watching him and is he certainly knew that he had some weaponry on him and so they news what he was up to and what they were -- they were trying to pre prevent what happened on January 6 and thought about arresting him, it could send a message.

In the end, Nordean took over and egged on the crowd, especially told them what they should do that day. Carry out that day, the violence that happened. Of course, that was one of the things that the prosecutors are going to emphasize at the Enrique Tarrio sentencing which is that for months, these men were at the forefront of political violence around the country, a lot of it at the egging of the former president.

And, so, obviously this is also the courthouse where Donald Trump himself is going to perhaps face some consequences for what he inspired on January 6. He's going to go on trial there in the coming months, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Let's bring in CNN's chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller.

John, let's revisit the four proud boys who have been sentenced. We still don't know the sentence for Nordean but we can make an educated guess, that these four are going to add up to around 50 years -- 17 for Biggs, 15 for Zachary Rehl, Nordean has yet to be sentenced, Pezzola got 10.

We should note that three of the four were convicted and then sentenced on a very difficult to prove seditious conspiracy charge. We talked about this when they were charged. There were a lot of people speculated that they would not get convictions on those because those are tough to prove. What do you make of it all?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, I think it is a very hard charge to prove. It's why prosecutors use it so seldom. But it is also an effective idea that regular American citizens are only rarely in the habit of trying to do something you could equate with trying to overthrow the government.

The last time they used this seditious conspiracy charge successfully was in 1995 against the so-called Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was charged in a conspiracy to blow up U.S. government buildings and landmarks on behalf of the bin Laden and al Qaeda. So, yeah, it's a big step to use against Americans. But when you have a case that you're charging there is a conspiracy to invade the Capitol and literally interrupt the process of democracy to wit the counting of electoral college votes, the certification rather of votes for the president, that is about as close as you're going to get to a seditious conspiracy and in a modern age.

TAPPER: Two years before the deadly insurrection, Trump's Justice Department identified white supremacists and far right extremists as the most significant domestic terrorist threat facing the U.S. at the time, more so than al Qaeda or ISIS.

Is this far right still considered the biggest, the far right activists and militia groups and the right to violent folks, are they still considered the biggest threat to the U.S. right now? [16:35:08]

MILLER: I would say that my last year or two even depending on where you set your watch with the New York city police department, assessing terrorist threats against the United States, and specifically the city, would validate that theory because, yes, it is important to note, and we cannot for a moment look away, understanding that ISIS and al Qaeda and Hezbollah are still groups that have aspirations to strike on U.S. soil. We can't look away from that.

On the other hand, if you -- if you compare the body count, if you look at the Buffalo supermarket shooting, if you look at Allen, Texas, mall shooting, one by a white supremacist, the next by a neo-Nazi or the El Paso shooting targeting migrants, you're seeing more people are being killed by people who are following this extreme right wing ideology than by al Qaeda or ISIS combines, at least on U.S. soil.

TAPPER: Yeah. John Miller, food for thought. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

And serious question now. What's up with all these new COVID cases that your probably hearing about? Why this latest wave might be worse than some people think.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Our money lead now. The hot weather and high gas prices and crowded airports are not expected to deter millions of Americans from traveling this Labor Day weekend. The Federal Aviation Administration or FAA expects nearly 50,000 flights just today, just today, 50,000.

CNN's Pete Muntean has more on the holiday weekend that will cap off one of the busiest summer travel periods on record.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a climatic end to a record breaking summer of travel with a new survey saying more than half of all Americans expect to travel for Labor Day.

At Chicago O'Hare, officials are bracing for a 7 percent increase in passengers compared to the holiday weekend last year. The TSA says after this weekend, the summer will set a new air travel record with more than 227 million people screened at airports since Memorial Day.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says flight cancelations are going down. But the latest numbers from FlightAware show it is delays that have increased. This summer, more than 25 percent of flights arrived late by an average of 57 minutes.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: This year, we have seen significant improvement. That doesn't mean that the system was immune from some tough travel days this year and this summer.

MUNTEAN: AAA says, even still, travelers remain undaunted, booking 4 percent more domestic trips compared to last Labor Day weekend, and 44 percent more international trips with destinations like Vancouver, Rome and London topping the list.

SCOTT KEYES, AIR TRAVEL EXPERT: You are seeing flights and trips over to Europe, and down to Latin America booming right now, with numbers that are significantly higher than what we saw pre-pandemic.

MUNTEAN: The crowds also stretched to the roads. AAA forecasts that popular routes like Palm Springs to San Diego and the Jersey Shore to Manhattan will hit peak congestion on Monday. Before this weekend, the average price for a gallon of regular gas flirted with a seasonal record set back in 2012.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like everything else, it just keeps going up and that's why I'm meeting my family half way. I would have driven all the way down to Baltimore and back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We knew they were going to go up. We knew it. So, we filled up before we left Jersey.


MUNTEAN (on camera): The TSA says today will be the busiest day for air travel but it is only the start. The agency anticipates screening 14 million people at airports across country through Wednesday -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Pete Muntean at Reagan National Airport, right outside D.C., thanks so much.

This busy travel weekend may be colliding with another COVID wave. Yes. You heard me right. Don't shoot the messenger.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is estimating that hospital admissions jumped nearly 19 percent the week ending August 19th, compared to the previous week and you may have seen this headline on today. This wave is probably worse than official data suggests, it says.

Let's bring in CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, testing is nowhere like it was before. So how do we know we're in a COVID wave given the fact that I can't even tell you the last time I got tested?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it's challenging. I mean, some of this is anecdotal. A lot of people may have had it themselves or hearing that more often.

But to your point, it is hard to validate because we're not doing as much testing. A lot of the testing is at home. Not being reported. So it makes it challenging. One of the things that you and I talked about for a couple of years

now is looking at more reliable metrics such as hospitalizations. You just mentioned it.

But let's take a look there. If you look at where the hospitalizations are over the past several months now and compared to this point last year, very far right is where we are. So it is much lower, half of where it was around this time last year, but it is ticking up. So, there is a trend up. It is not a surge per se, but it is trending up.

Another indicator, wastewater. So this is basically looking at wastewater all over the country and trying to figure out how much COVID, how much virus is in that wastewater. And this goes back to earlier in the spring, it was higher then. But now, it's higher than it has been in several months.

It is not directly correlating with new cases or new hospitalizations yet. But you're seeing a tick up there as well. So this is the early warning system, Jake. I mean, I think we got to pay attention to it. I wouldn't call it a surge but the numbers are heading in a direction of up.

TAPPER: Do we know who is being hospitalized? If they're seniors, if they're middle-aged people -- kids, do we have any idea?

GUPTA: Yeah, about 15,000 new hospitalizations, and some of the same sort of, you know, risks -- the high risk sort of criteria apply.


So they do tend to be older and they tend to be people who have immunocompromised, who have weakened immune systems for various reasons. You know, it is interesting, that is been the trend all along, where you see these high risk populations but you got to keep an eye on other people who might be at risk as well.

TAPPER: So, it's a big travel weekend, obviously. Some kids are back in school. Others are about to go back to school. What is the CDC guidance on masks, on sickness, on what to do if you are infected? What does it look like right now, the guidance?

GUPTA: Well, right now, if you look at the country as a whole, and they have these again the data that we do have with all of the caveats I just gave, if you look at the map of the country, it looks pretty green which is good in this case. There are a few areas where you're going to have more hospitalizations which is the primary metric that they're using to determine whether they would recommend masks and stuff.

So we're not at that point. But I've got to tell you, Jake, you know -- I recently visited my parents, I tested myself before I went down there. I wore a mask on the way down there. They're older, they are the ones who are the high risk that we were just talking about.

And if I did test positive or someone tests positive to the second part of your question, it is five days of isolation. That's when you're likely to be the most infectious, starting the day after you develop symptoms and five days after that and then -- and then you could test after that to make sure that you're not still infectious.

TAPPER: A new COVID booster is supposed to come out layer this month. President Biden has been talking about it, I guess to up the latest strain. Who should get it?

GUPTA: You know, it is -- I put it grid together to look at all the vaccines. But I'll tell you, we'll see who they recommend it for. But September 12th when is the advisory meeting is going to happen and my guess is it is people who are high risk, are the first in line to get this. If you've recently had a shot, or you've recently had COVID, probably for four months or so, you don't really need to get to -- an updated immunity.

But that's sort of probably how it is going to fall and align there, what I'm showing you on the screen.

TAPPER: All right. Dr. Sanjay Gupta with the latest, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, the dangerous storm lashing one of the largest economic cities in the world.

Plus, Republican presidential contender Vivek Ramaswamy, how his bold and some would say shameless style is bringing on new pushback from his fellow Republican contenders.



TAPPER: Back with our world lead now. An estimated 4 million Ukrainian children went back to school today, according to UNICEF. Some kids were sent with two backpacks, one for school supplies, the other containing food and water and other supplies for a bomb shelter, should it be needed.

A Ukrainian mom of two tells CNN that their kids are going back to their kids' school in person to attempt some semblance of normalcy. But they're in the minority. UNICEF says about two thirds of students are going to study online or hybrid.

Meanwhile, the fight on the frontlines grinds on. CNN's Christiane Amanpour sat down with Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, to day. He insists Ukraine is making substantial gains on the battlefield.



DMYTRO KULEBA, UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: If Ukraine was failing, I would probably be the first one to speak the truth, but we are not failing. We are moving forward. We have liberated thousands of square kilometers through minefields with no air coverage. How does it feel when you come back from your mission and you take

back your phone, you open it and start reading all these smart people saying how slow -- how slow you are and that you are not -- you are not doing well enough, you just lost two of your buddies, you were almost killed, you crawled one kilometer on your belly demining the field, you sacrificed yourself, you took the damn Russian trench in a fierce fight, and then you read someone is saying, oh, guys, you are too slow?


TAPPER: It's not just the United States currently experiencing unusually violent weather. Hong Kong, and other parts of southern china, got walloped by Typhoon Saola today, alerted as a T10, the highest typhoon threat level, equivalent to a category four hurricane. Saola weakened to a category 2 as it approached Hong Kong. Still, the city of more than 7 million saw trees uprooted and windows blown out.

Coming up next, Republican 2024 presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, a candidate of many seeming contradictions despite his double speak, and rivals calling him, see the support this candidate is still getting on the campaign trail.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, Gold Star families still demanding answers about what happened at Abbey Gate where 13 U.S. service members were killed during that chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it so hard to get answers from the president and top military leaders?


TAPPER: The runaround that Gold Star families have gotten for two straight years as they demand answers, so is CNN. A mother who lost her son in the attack is here with reaction to our look into two important questions.

Plus, the contentious vote set for next week for the Women's Tennis Association, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia with its troubled record on human rights abuses, to say nothing of women's rights. Saudi Arabia is making a play to host the finals.

And leading this hour, 2024 candidate Vivek Ramaswamy stirring controversy as he tries to position himself as part of a new generation of the Republican Party. He's made some contradictions when it comes to policies. He's suggested wild conspiracy theories about not only about January 6th, but September 11th. Ramaswamy, nonetheless, is gaining support among voters and with that

support comes the scrutiny of the spotlight. The 38-year-old represents a generational shift for the Grand Old Party.

He's now at the center of Republican politics, and as Kyung Lah reports, the so-called candidate of the new right says he is here to stay.


VIVEK RAMASWAMY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I started at not zero percent, but 0.0 percent in March.

Hey, everyone, how are you?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From obscurity to caucus curiosity.

RAMASWAMY: We fight for the truth. We stand up for the truth.